Grand Junction Now Has A Grocery Store-Sized Hole In The Heart Of Downtown

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<p>Ronald Zastrow/CPR News</p>
<p>Grand Junction’s downtown City Market had been in business since 1990. Company officials announced its closure in December, just about a month before the doors shut for good.</p>
Photo: Downtown Grocery Closes 1 | Closed sign and work truck - RZastrow
Grand Junction’s downtown City Market had been in business since 1990. Company officials announced its closure in December, just about a month before the doors shut for good.

Downtown Grand Junction has a lot going for it: cool restaurants, independent bookstores, a rotating cast of public art pieces. But as of earlier this week, what it doesn't have is a supermarket.

That’s a small hit for western Colorado’s largest city. Groceries still circle the edges of town — it’s the urban core that is left without.

Just days before the City Market on 1st Avenue closed, it was clear the end was near. Many shelves were completely bare. Some had just a few candy bars or maybe one lonely bottle of fancy shampoo. In the freezer section, an elderly man was filling his cart with dozens of deeply discounted TV dinners.

Outside, shopper Glenn Greuling was blunt about the closure.

“Oh, I think it sucks,” the 60-year-old said.

He’s been shopping there since the grocery store opened almost three decades ago, and it’s easy for him. Greuling only lives a few blocks away.

“I walk here every day and get whatever I need, and now it’s closing,” he griped. “And the closest store is Walmart, and that’s a long ways away.”

It’s 1.2 miles away to be exact. That’s almost nothing by car, but far by foot and too costly for him by bus. There’s another grocery store that’s just over a mile away down a busy highway and across the Colorado River. Allen Selders lives in the apartments right next door to the City Market, and uses his electric wheelchair to get there.

“This is my transportation,” he said. “So, yeah, if I’ve got to go a lot further, it’s a lot colder to go a lot further.”

Kroger, the parent company of City Market, would not grant an interview for this story, but said the store was closed because it had not been profitable in quite some time, and stated all employees were transferred to other locations. Despite the inconvenience, Selders said there's no point in being angry at the chain.

“They got to do what they got to do, but I don’t like it,” he said, “but that’s the way it goes, I guess.”

Photo: Downtown Grocery Closes 2 | Dismantled sign and boarded doors - RZastrow
Though City Market is now gone from downtown, Grand Junction and Mesa County still have a handful of other City Markets. All of the downtown location’s former employees accepted positions at other nearby locations.

With this closure, Grand Junction joins the ranks of many cities that don't have a downtown grocery store. Greeley, the largest city in Weld County, lost theirs in 2014. Denver didn't have a full-service grocery until 2015. Industry publication “Grocery Dive” has even posed the question: Can grocery stores make it in America’s Cities? When he heard that City Market was leaving, Grand Junction’s downtown director, Brandon Stam, was dismayed but not surprised.

“I think it’s something we took for granted having here, maybe?” he said.

The problem, Stam said, is money. The people who live in urban centers typically make less than those who live in the suburbs. That makes it hard to keep a grocery store and maybe hard to attract its replacement. City Market has nearly two years on left on the lease. The company hopes to get a new tenant in that space soon, but until then, the store will just sit empty on the west end of downtown.

“It does provide a gateway that isn't ideal when you enter,” he said, “having a vacant building like that.”

Stam doesn't expect it to harm businesses downtown. He's also heard from folks who hope that a specialty grocery takes the supermarket’s place. But, he warns it’s kind of like a chicken-and-egg thing for this 60,000-person community.

“We’re working on projects that will make out downtown more attractive in the future,” he said. “But we’re not there yet.”

In the final days before the doors were shuttered, shoppers at the downtown market found one tiny silver lining to its closing — huge discounts, up to 90 percent off. Lots of locals came to check out the emptying shelves.

Candy and Alex Garcia picked up some cat treats. Tirzah Laughton Laughton was surprised to find gluten-free cookies and brownies. And Allen Selders sought just two things and was surprised to actually find them.

“Salt and Pepper,” he said, with a hearty laugh. “They were a little limited.”